January 20, 2013 – Second Sunday after Epiphany
Your Light in the World
Here on this presidential inaugural weekend, we hear about the inaugural event of Jesus’ ministry.
Last week we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism and this week Jesus begins his ministry. Next week we’ll hear Jesus’ inaugural address from Luke’s gospel.
This week, in John’s gospel, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is at a wedding. In those days, a bride and groom didn’t head out of town for their honeymoon after getting married. They stayed around for a several-days-long wedding feast in the home of the groom.1 It’s hard to have a days-long party without all the neighbors ending up there too so it becomes a whole village event.
However, before the party ran its course, the wine ran out. Jesus’ mother passed the word to him most likely because it would be a source of shame for the groom’s family to run out of wine for the wedding feast. Jesus tells his mother his “hour has not yet come”–which is a foreshadowing of the end of his life when he will say “the hour has come.”2 Perhaps here he means his actions will be governed by God’s timing and not human designs.
His mother tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She’s not saying he’ll take care of it but she leaves the door open if he should choose to act.
And he does act. He tells the servants to fill the six jars with water. And all that water becomes wine.
Now let’s do a little math. We’ll average the jar capacity and say the six jars each held twenty-five gallons. Say an average glass of wine is 4 ounces. Do all the calculations and those six stone jars, filled to the brim, held 4,800 glasses of wine. That’s a lot of wine!
Later on in John’s gospel, Jesus says, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.”3 This water turned into wine story that begins Jesus’ ministry is a story of extravagant abundance! And it’s not an abundance of cheap wine. It’s good wine. In the Hebrew scriptures, the abundance of good wine “is a sign of the joyous arrival of God’s realm.”4 So not only is this miracle of abundance the kickoff for Jesus’ ministry, it is also an announcement that God’s promised salvation–the realm of God’s wholeness and peace–has come.
In the story, the wine steward is puzzled. All of a sudden there’s all this good wine. Where did it come from and why was it saved for the end of the party? It doesn’t make sense to him. The disciples, on the other hand, “see this miraculous abundance of good wine as a sign of God’s presence among them.”5 The wine steward tries to make this extravagant miracle fit into his existing world view and he cannot make it work. The disciples allow their world view to be changed because of this extravagant miracle. They believe (another way to translate that word is they trust) and they are transformed.
What made the disciples able to welcome this miracle of abundance? We don’t know from this story but I wonder if it stemmed from their study of scripture, their prayer life and their connection with the community of faith. Those spiritual practices have certainly been part of the lives of generations of people who have noticed the signs of God at work in the world.
The dilemma of this story is not whether we view the world through the lens of modern science or not. It’s not about figuring out how to explain the appearance of the wine. The dilemma of this story for us is whether we will welcome the miracle of abundance and the possibility of transformation. “The extravagance of Jesus’ act, the superabundance of the wine, suggests the unlimited gifts that Jesus makes available…This story” says Gail O’Day, my favorite writer on John, “invites [us] to enter into the joyous celebration made possible by Jesus’ gift.”6
Which is all very inauguration-like. Everything is hopeful and filled with possibility. Life is fresh and expectant. Our hearts and minds are full of ideals and dreams. The hard work, disappointments and the betrayal has yet to be encountered. But that’s not to say the hopefulness and the possibilities are wrong. If we only kept our head down and said, “Oh, man, it’s gonna be tough,” we might not get anywhere at all. If the President only said, “I’m going to be blocked at every turn as I try to fulfill my campaign promises” we might all go home and pull down the shades. If all the Civil Rights activists knew were the fire hoses and the vicious dogs, they might have given up and acquiesced to racial injustice.
Instead we are carried and buoyed by the promises we hear and see from leaders in our midst who can see beyond our immediate struggle. “I have a dream” Dr. King said. He said, “We’re going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. And so, however dark it is, however deep the angry feelings are, and however violent explosions are, I can still sing ‘We Shall Overcome.’..We shall overcome because the arc of a moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because…no lie can live forever…With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair the stone of hope.”7
President Obama in his first inaugural address said, “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation. But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”8
Jesus will give his inaugural speech next week. Today, he turns gallons of water into an abundance of good wine, inaugurating a ministry of abundance, signaling God’s abundant grace in the world.
Leaders like Dr. King and President Obama call forth our best selves and invite us to step up and live into our hopes and ideals.
The extravagance of Jesus’ action, the extraordinary abundance of wine, shows us the unlimited gifts Jesus provides. Not simply for drinking and getting drunk. The abundant gifts Jesus provides are gifts for each of us to use to be part of the abundant life Jesus augurates. Not just for our own personal selves but for the whole human community, indeed, the whole creation.
And so we hear the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians say, “Each of you has been given a gift, a gift of the Spirit, to use for the good of all.” That abundance of Jesus spills over and fills us up.
Maybe none of us will have the preaching gifts or the leadership gifts of Dr. King. Maybe none of us will have the gifts to be President of the United States. Most likely none of us will have the gift of changing water into wine. (Although I know several of you would really like to be able to do that.) But all of us–every single one of us–has a gift to use that confirms the abundance of life with Christ in the world. A gift that makes it possible for more of the world to live in the wholeness that God intends.
Some of us will start a march for equality. Some of us will work for a decrease in gun violence. Some of us will agitate for better mental health services. Some of us will pray for peace. Some of us will support a child. Some of us will teach non-violence. Some of us will offer wise counsel. Some of us will befriend someone who has no friends. Some of us will sing with the dying. Some of us will write brilliant truth. Some of us will hold the hand of one who is scared. Some of us will call out bigotry. Some of us will light a candle in the darkness.
Maybe you already know what your gift is. Maybe you’re just discovering it. Maybe you don’t know what it is yet. Your particular gift is the light of Christ that shines in and through you. Your gift is the way the world sees Christ’s light in you.
So on this inauguration weekend, on this weekend when we celebrate the life and ministry of Dr. King, on this Sunday of Jesus’ inaugural act of ministry, may we receive the abundance of grace we are offered in Jesus Christ and may we be Christ’s light in the world as we share that abundance.
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1 Robert M. Brearley, “Pastoral Perspective – John 2.1-11,” in Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol. 1, eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p260.
2 John 17.1
3 John 10.10
4Gail R. O’Day, “The Gospel of John” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol IX, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), p538.
5 Ibid, p540.
7 A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. ed. James M. Washington, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1986), p277.
8 http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/inaugural-address accessed 19 January 2013.